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When Radia killed the media star

Saturday, 20 November 2010 - 2:51pm IST | Agency: dna

The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country than the talk shows in the various news channels and the breast-beating in all the newspapers about the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.

The website, NewspostIndia.com has this to say about this phenomenon, "The self anointed flag bearers of the third pillar were caught red handed as the Nira Radia tapes were leaked online by Open and Outlook Magazine. These tapes show the corruption nexus between top journalists such as Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Prabhu Chawla and Vir Sanghvi and political parties and corporate lobbyists. Some print media outlets, such as Mail Today, and foreign media giants carried these revelations. However our very own prime time television news channels NDTV, CNN-IBN, TimesNow, Headlines Today etc. launched a cover up of the news from the public in order to protect their own."

It is quite possible that Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi never lobbied for Raja or for anyone else. But it is quite clear from the tapes that they were by no means practising journalism in their conversations with Radia. What they were doing, is acting as liaison officers for political parties and business houses. In fact, if all those conversations were merely in the course of 'journalistic duty', why this strange black-out?

But what is really scary is that, despite living in a 'democracy' that boasts of a 'free press', if you were dependant only on TV and the big newspapers for the biggest news developments of the day, you would never have known about the Niira Radia tapes, and the murky role of mediapersons as political power brokers. Indeed, the main source of information on this scandal has been online media, such as newspostindia.com, various bloggers, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and of course, the websites of Outlook and Open magazines.

The question that the Barkha Dutts and the Rajdeep Sardesais of the world have to answer is: How can you purport to be a news channel and ignore completely the biggest news break of the day for two days running (Nov 18 and 19)? Sure, say that those tapes are rubbish. Defend your journalists all you want. Do whatever, but how can you pretend to your audience — many of whom anyway have been listening to the tapes from the Open and Outlook and YouTube websites — that they never happened? I mean, how daft is that?

And even if those tapes, reportedly recorded by the IT department, were not authentic, the very fact that the entire broadcast media (bitter rivals for TRPs and ad revenues on normal days) ganged up to black it out shows that they have something to hide. Just as politicians bail each other out in scam-time, it appears journalists do the same.

Outlook prefaces its tape transcripts with the comments, "Radia's conversations show how even cabinet berths can be decided by this select oligarchy. Her interface with discredited (now former) telecom minister A. Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi and Ranjan Bhattacharya, the foster son-in-law of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, shows how she successfully lobbied for several cabinet berths. The transcripts suggest that journalists Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt also lobbied for Raja with the Congress party. However, both journalists, in separate statements, decried the use of the label 'lobbyist' and termed their conversation with Radia as part of their normal journalistic duties."

At the same time, it is worth noting that neither Barkha nor any of the other journalists whose names have come up have denied that those conversations took place. So why not let the reader or TV viewer read or listen to the transcripts and decide whether Dutt and Sanghvi's conversations with Radia are a part of "normal journalistic duties" or amount to pimping for politicians and business houses? Or perhaps they were doing social service for the Congress? Play the tapes on your show, na, Ms Dutt, instead of tweeting about them? Why not let 'We, The People' decide, instead of you deciding for us all?

Newspostindia.com observes, "The media in the free world prides itself on impartiality. In India, they're in bed with the ruling elites. If these individuals or the companies they represent had any ethics or standards, we would have seen resignations by now."

Earlier this week, I had contacted the former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) N Vittal for a story I was working on. He spoke at length about the vicious cycle of the neta-babu-lala-jhola-dada who have "scientifically perfected" corruption. But Vittal left out one vital link in the chain — the media professional.